The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

June 15, 2012

Computer at Joplin business focus of child porn case

A Jasper County judge has ordered a Joplin man bound over for trial on charges of possessing and promoting child pornography on a desktop computer in a business in Joplin.

Associate Circuit Judge Richard Copeland found probable cause at a preliminary hearing Thursday in Jasper County Circuit Court for Tony W. Ramos IV, 30, to stand trial on the charges.

Brad Bearden, a criminal investigator with the Missouri State Highway Patrol assigned to the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force, testified at the hearing that a desktop computer seized during the execution of a search warrant Feb. 10 at a Joplin business had suspected videos of child pornography in a file-sharing folder.

Bearden told the court that the search warrant was obtained in the course of an investigation initiated Jan. 19. The investigation targeted a peer-to-peer file-sharing network on the Internet often used by pedophiles to share pornographic material with children as subjects.

An initial search of the network conducted by Bearden using common pedophile terms revealed that two suspected child porn videos had been downloaded on a computer in Joplin. A follow-up discovered 17 videos in a shared folder on that computer, 10 of which are known among cyber crime investigators to contain confirmed child pornography, Bearden said. He said the location of the computer was determined by subpoena, and a search warrant was obtained.

Three computers were discovered at the business, with the illicit material determined to be on one in a corner of the shop’s office. Bearden said the shop’s operators told officers that the defendant used the computer.

During cross-examination by defense attorney Ross Rhoades, Bearden acknowledged that a forensic examination of the computer and some storage devices that were seized during the search has yet to be completed and that he could not say as yet who downloaded the illicit material from the Internet or when.

He also could not say when the material was viewed by someone at the business or for how long.

Rhoades also questioned how Bearden could be certain that the subjects in the video were indeed children and not adults who just looked young for their age. The attorney asked Bearden if someone wishing to capitalize on pedophiles’ interests without actually breaking the law might not label adult material as child pornography.

“Have I seen it?” Bearden said in response. “I have found adult pornography labeled as child pornography, yes.”

While the judge overruled a defense motion to dismiss the case for lack of evidence, he did express some reservation about binding Ramos over on the charge of promoting child pornography.

The basis for the charge — that the videos were left in a shared folder on the computer where other users of the Internet might locate and download them — would appear to involve no additional alleged act on the defendant’s part other than the downloading of the material, which constitutes the grounds for the possession charge, the judge observed.

But he ultimately decided to bind the defendant over on both counts, telling Rhoades that if he could produce case law suggesting that some other element was needed for a charge of promoting, he would dismiss that count.

Appearance date

The judge set the defendant’s initial appearance in a trial division of the court for July 9.

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